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Review: ‘Showing Up’

Michelle Williams and Hong Chau star in director Kelly Reichardt’s gentle, lovely slice of creative life.

We are surrounded by creativity. How did it get there? 

Hard work and perseverance, according to Showing Up, the newest film by director Kelly Reichardt. The title, apparently quoting Woody Allen — “Ninety percent of success in life is just showing up” — is apt, though it only begins to explain what drives the titular artist (Michelle Williams), a sculptor making final preparations for her next show in Oregon. 

The artist sculpts out of her home studio with her roommate, a cat. To support herself, she works as a commercial artist at an arts & crafts combine, managed by her mother (Maryann Plunkett). She visits her father (Judd Hirsch), a retired artist, and worries about her brother (Jean-Luc Boucherot), an artist with an unsteady grasp on life. 

She crosses cordial paths with fellow artists all day long, though she has become angered as of late with Jo (Hong Chau), an artist on the rise. Their point of contention is a hot-water issue in the house owned by Jo, of which the artist rents space for living and working.

All these are little matters that only become bigger issues when they veer from distractions  to obstacles that impinge upon the artist’s free flow of creativity. They may seem small, if not outright petty, yet they grow into mountains when ignored. 

Written by frequent collaborators Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, Showing Up flows by with casual grace, capturing the gentle push and pull of daily life for an artist. She’s not a ‘struggling’ artist, in that she has food to eat and a safe place to live. Still, hers is a modest life, like that of many of her fellow artists. Occasionally, some may break through and start to enjoy greater success, as Jo appears to be doing. 

More often in life, the artist does not have greater success; the only success they can hope to achieve is to do the work, to finish the work, and then live for another day, so they can start on a new piece of work. The end goal is not necessarily to achieve great success, but to express what is inside, what they may not be able to explain to anyone else, except for showing the work. And to do that, first they just have to show up. 

Director Kelly Reichard does that better than most, as expressed delicately, yet with great passion, in all her films to date. Without the noise of genre films, she captures great big slabs of life, and then distills them into tasty slices that resonate and echo, like a flat stone skipped on a calm lake, rippling quietly yet memorably.

The film opens Friday, April 21, Angelika Film Center (Dallas), Cinemark West Plano, and Alamo Drafthouse Richardson, via A24 Films. It will expand April 28 to additional theaters in Addison, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Hurst and Plano, . For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Certain Women’

dfn-certain-women-720The sky reaches forever, the distant mountains beckon, and the roads stretch ever onward. This is Montana, as presented in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, and it’s as much a character as the women who populate it.

Reichardt sets loose her characters like intelligent wind-up dolls, which makes them immediately familiar. Like everyone else on the planet, Reichardt’s women cope the best they can with their lives, imperfect as they may be. They are the the type of women we rarely see on the big screen: women who are willing to take risks and accept the consequences.

They are, in essence, just like Montana, defined as skies and mountains and roads that will not be easily defeated nor call attention to themselves.

Laura Wells (Laura Dern) is a lawyer vainly trying to help her client Fuller (Jared Harris), a power lineman who suffered a calamitous fall but naively signed away his rights to sue. Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) is a business owner working to build a new home for her family while also navigating the emotional minefield of her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier). Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is an extremely shy ranch hand who is attracted to preoccupied new evening-class teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart).

I’ve seen four films by Reichardt over the past 10 years — Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves — and what they hold in common is a reliance on the characters to tell the story quietly through their personalities. Despite the restraint they exercise, their individual strengths always bleed through and inform what happens.

Certain Women reminded me quite a bit of Old Joy, which followed two old friends on a camping trip and somehow managed to detail both their past and future lives merely by the power of casual conversation. The contrast between the beautiful yet restrictive forest in rural Oregon where the men traveled and the wide open spaces of Montana where Certain Women unfolds is striking.

The lead characters will not allow others to limit them. Laura Wells wants to help Fuller but she will not let him dictate her actions. Gina Lewis wants her family to be happy, but she will not let them restrict her movements. Jamie wants Beth to respond to her, but she will not force her to do so.

The performances are marvels of minimalism, with no one overplaying their hand. Only small touches are needed to flesh out the words that Reichardt has written, based on stories by Maile Meloy. The unhurried approach is complemented by Chris Blauvelt’s artistry as director of photography and Reichardt’s own talents as film editor.

Certain Women establishes its leisurely pace early, but it’s simultaneous with the introduction of people of interest who compel attention. The film lingers in the mind, not so much as a collection of stories but as a reminder of individual faces; there’s nothing so beautiful as someone who is determined to make the best out of life.

The film opens on Friday, October 28 at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano.